Here are my top recommendations to explore Barcelona
- Walk and discover... from the top of Paseo Gracia down to Plaza Catalunya
Whether this is your first visit to Barcelona or not, Passeig de Gracia is a must see. Once home to the city’s bankers and lawyers, the street has become the central avenue. Home to top hotels, top brands and beautiful architecture, it connects the old town to the area of Gracia.
Whether shopping or strolling, taking photos or people watching, the broad sidewalks absorb a constant stream of people. There are cafes, restaurants and bars, and a great line up of Modernist buildings including Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. (World Heritage Sites)
Luxury labels compete for space, along with top brands like Nike, Adidas and Apple at the Plaza Catalunya end. The flagship Massimo Dutti store has a beautiful terrace on the first floor where you can enjoy views of La Pedrera (Case Mila).
If you have the time, repeat the exercise on Rambla Catalunya, just one block over, or Career Enric Granados.
2, Explore the old town…wandering down the Ramblas to the old port, or through the Gothic quarter. Lose yourself in the narrow old streets. The Gothic quarter offers a little bit of everything – old cobbled streets, 15th century palaces, historical buildings, churches with centuries of history. It is easy to get lost in the maze of streets, but you are never too far from the Ramblas on one side or Via Laietana. The old port forms a natural boundary and a sense of space after the narrow streets in the old quarter.
3. Discover the markets…La Boqueria market on the Ramblas and the Mercat de Santa Caterina just off Via Laietana both feature in most guide books. Here you may feel that the place is overrun by tourists, but the markets are still popular with those living in the surrounding areas. Try the Mercat de la Concepcion on Career Arago or one of the other city markets if you want a more authentic feel. The City Council has actively promoted these markets in recent years with extensive refurbishment work done and support for small business.
4. Miramar mirador – see the city from above. Barcelona is set against the hills of Montjuic and Tibidabo, amongst others. Take the Cable Car at Parallel metro stop to Montjuic. If you head right it is a short walk to the Miramar Mirador (Lookout over the harbour). Here there is an aerial railway that takes you across to Barceloneta for the ultimate bird’s eye view. If you head left, it is a short walk to the Miro Foundation. Carry on a little further to reach the Museum in the Palacio Nacional above Plaza Espanya. Both museums offer great views over the city. Alternatively, the Park Guell is also a popular choice. You get great views over the city and a special place to appreciate the work of Antonio Gaudi. You need to buy tickets to the park and there is a limit on the number of visitors per day, so it is good to book, especially in holiday periods.
5. Arc de Triomf – Parque de la Ciutadella – Port Vell
In 1888 Barcelona held an international exhibition aimed at expanding its influence with surrounding countries. Many of the buildings built then provide a historical reference to those ideals that helped shaped the city. The industrial wealth that supported the expansion of the city with L’Exiample (Plan Cerda), the park that was built in the place of the former Ciutadella Fort outside the walls of the old city and the modernist buildings. Today the Passeig Lluis Companys is full of life, street performers and people walking down to the park. In the afternoons the park is the perfect playground for people to meet, have picnics, perform music, yoga, tai chi or whatever they feel like doing. At the corner of Career Pujades and Passeig de Picasso is the Castle of the three dragons, a modernist building designed by Domenech i Montaner, which was a restaurant at the time of the international exhibition. At the bottom end of the park is the city zoo. Well worth a visit if you like zoos, but otherwise it is a short walk from here to the old port (Port Vell) and you can then return to the old town or pick up a metro.
6. Follow the local timetable and adapt some local customs. The saying goes “When in Rome…” and so a good option is to put away the map and just take it easy. Midweek you will find many office workers stopping in at a nearby cafe for a mid-morning break. Many cafes offer a deal – like cafe and a pastry (croissant), or cafe and bread roll for a fixed price. You will be surprised at just how busy the cafes can get. The offers usually run till 12.00.
Lunchtime is somewhere between 1pm and 4pm, with most restaurants offering a lunch time menu for a set price (10-12 euros)…This is great value and again part of a way of life.
Shops usually stay open till 8pm, 9pm or even later in the case of big stores. So don’t think about dinner before 9pm. If you are hungry or want a break, try having a tapa in the late afternoon.
Planning on enjoying the nightlife. Start late…going out after dinner means starting around 11pm or midnight.
7. Take a Detour
Detour – is an audio tour. You get the commentary through an application on your phone and the tour guides you around a neighbourhood. GPS tracking, great soundtrack and well researched stories. This is a unique way to experience the city. I have done the Summer of Anarchy tour and thought it was great. Detour have now released another 7 tours for Barcelona, so you now have 8 to choose from. Try one – you may get addicted and want to do more.
The subject matter of each tour is different: history, literature, dancing, food, vermouth, FC Barca and even skateboarding. A great way to explore different neighbourhoods and get off the beaten track.
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